A U.S. Border Patrol agent surrendered Thursday to face felony charges of assaulting a 14-year-old boy at the Nogales Border Patrol station for having a cellphone while in detention.
Aldo Francisco Arteaga of Tucson was fingerprinted and photographed at the Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office, then released on his own recognizance. He was formally charged last week with aggravated assault of a minor, county officials said. If convicted, he could face up to two years in prison.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection announced the charges Thursday, saying they came after an internal affairs investigation.
Santa Cruz County Atty. George Silva said prosecutors had video of the purported Jan. 30 assault from a surveillance camera in an immigration holding cell.
“The officer … sees the juvenile with a phone, a prohibited item, takes the phone from the juvenile and proceeds to punch him in the stomach,” Silva told the Los Angeles Times.
Silva said Arteaga would be arraigned in coming weeks.
Arteaga could not be reached for comment Thursday night.
The Border Patrol has been under pressure to investigate allegations of abuse and to be more transparent. According to internal affairs documents released this year, the vast majority of complaints against agents operating within 100 miles of the Southwest border resulted in no disciplinary action or were pending after many years.
The new head of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Commissioner R. Gil Kerlikowske, has vowed to speed up inquiries, acknowledging that the agency hadn’t conducted thorough investigations in the past.
And the new internal affairs chief, Mark Morgan, has pledged to take a deeper look at 14 shootings and 141 allegations of abuse to determine whether charges should be filed.
Immigration activists were divided Thursday night over whether the Arteaga case was a harbinger of change.
Juanita Molina, executive director of the Border Action Network, a Tucson immigrant rights group, called the agency’s disclosure of the charges a sign of a positive shift in its culture.
“Having them directly reporting this to the community shows that they are being held to a different standard and that they are viewing their actions through a different lens,” she said.
Not that long ago, Molina said, the agency had a dysfunctional culture that accepted violence and racist behavior. She first noticed a shift in 2010, she said, when the Tucson sector’s leadership changed.
Although there still is animosity between immigrant rights groups along the border and the agency, she said, the Tucson sector has become more accountable for its actions.
But James Lyall, an American Civil Liberties Union attorney in Tucson, was not convinced.
“The fact that internal affairs finally appears to be taking an alleged example of Border Patrol abuse seriously is encouraging, but the agency clearly still has a long way to go to reform a pervasive culture of impunity,” he said.
Tucson immigrant rights activist Blake Gentry, who documents Border Patrol abuse allegations, said the agency had “a culture that perpetuates abuse.”
He downplayed the charges against Arteaga. “It’s just one case in a sea, in an ocean of abuse,” he said.
Carcamo reported from Tucson and Bennett from Washington.